Salvador Dalí's surreal dalliance with Nazism
It seems sadly inevitable. Salvador Dalí was nicknamed ávida dollars("eager for dollars") by his former friends the surrealists for abandoning idealism in favour of fame and money, and suspected of far worse. He was condemned by the group for his painting The Enigma of Hitler. He later wrote that Hitler "turned me on".
Now it turns out he was friends with Wallis Simpson, who has also been suspected of Nazi sympathies. An auction house is about to sell a drawing Dalí gave to the woman for whom Edward VIII abdicated the throne. He did it at his favourite American residence, the St Regis Hotel (it's on their notepaper). Dalí scribbled an affectionate note and sketched a horseman.
It's said that Dalí did the drawing over lunch with the Duchess of Windsor – if so, what did they talk about? Happy memories of the 1930s perhaps. In 1937, just before her marriage to the former monarch, Simpson posed for glamorous photographs by Cecil Beaton in the gardens of a French chateau. This was just a few months after Edward VIII gave up the throne. Beaton portrayed Simpson as a beauty fit to obsess a king – and a subversive modern woman who contrasted with stuffy old Britain and its moralising monarchical ways. She posed in a dress she had recently bought, designed by Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dalí. It's got one of Dalí's favourite symbols, a lobster, printed on it. Beaton's picture is in black and white but another example of this Dalí dress survives in all its red crustacean glory.
Quite a garment – but the late 30s was also when Dalí painted The Enigma of Hitler, and confessed to dreaming about the Nazi dictator. Wallis Simpson got closer than that. An FBI investigation in 1941 suggested Wallis Simpson shared Dalí's strange attraction to Nazism. She was said to have given information to Joachim von Ribbentrop, the Nazi foreign minister, during the German invasion of France. The FBI was told she had a relationship with Von Ribbentrop in London in 1936, and that he sent her 17 carnations every day to mark the number of times she slept with him.
Wallis Simpson and Dalí were both habitues of a brittle elite world that could flirt with Hitler as if the fate of millions of people were a sick joke. After the war, Dalí was happy and rich in Franco's Spain. In New York, he did this sketch for the Duchess of Windsor.
I used to try to see the best in Dalí, but increasingly he looks like one of the 20th century's nastiest cultural products.
and here's an interesting view from the comments column by CultureJudge:
Dali was put on trial in 1934 by the Surrealists for his 'Hitler sympathising'. The court was made up of Leftists, while Dali had always declared himself apolitical. He put up a good defence. He made two good points:
1. Dreaming about Hitler is not sympathising with him. A Surrealist should engage with any subject matter that enters his unconscious, and, according to Breton's own Surrealist law, without any moral or conscious censorship. In the same way that Dali had earlier disgusted his Surrealist fellows by arguably being truer to this than them - by painting a man shitting his pants (The Lugubrious Game, 1929) - Dali doesn't flinch from painting the monster, Hitler, and it hardly needs pointing out that Hitler would have found nothing to please him in the resulting painting. Just as Lenin would have found nothing to amuse him in the painting in which his tiny face appears repeatedly hovering over a piano.
2. Dali pointed out quite rightly that Hitler would have had him immediately arrested as a degenerate.
The remarks in which Dali apparently expresses attraction to Hitler are hardly complimentary to the Nazi leader. That is, Dali's fascination centers on how Hitler's belt sinks into his flabby flesh, a motif that sits well with the artist's obsessions with flaccidity and softness, impotency and decay. If he went so far as to say Hitler 'turned him on', then he most likely said so to outrage opinion, cause scandal and maximise fame - the artist's lifelong strategy, and one aped to this day by many of today's contemporary artists. I say this because the idea of Dali, in his view, lowering himself to the tenets of a mere political movement simply does not accord with his megalomaniac narcissism.
Given too Dali's quasi-erotic relationship with his homosexual friend Lorca, there is much in Dali's make-up that would have gotten him into trouble with the Nazis, and he knew it.
None of this is to say he was any advocate of democracy, of course. He saw himself as an aristocrat and was happy enough living under Franco. But the case that he positively approved of Nazi ideology and policy has yet to be made, in my view. His friendship with Simpson is explained by his constant desire to court the rich and the powerful. Meanwhile, Dali's apoliticism is further demonstrated by his lifelong crawling to Picasso - an outspoken Communist